Most people associate rest with slacking or doing nothing.
And understandably, skivers who find all manner of excuses to shirk tasks or go on multiple breaks at peak periods are heartily detested by the hardworking souls who plug faithfully away at the work to be done.
It is no wonder that this idea transposes into Christianity, where Christians who wholeheartedly and faithfully devote themselves to the labour of the kingdom of God and Great Commission thumb their noses at and begrudge Christians who strongly advocate resting in God’s grace, labelling them as ‘lazy’.
But if there’s one thing God consistently shows man throughout the Bible, it is that His ways are more often than not the opposite to the world’s ways and man’s ways. And God’s ways, though often seeming foolish and illogical to man, always produces far better results than man’s ways.
Yet God chose the foolish things of the world so He might put to shame the wise; and God chose the weak things of the world so He might put to shame the strong; and God chose the lowly and despised things of the world, the things that are as nothing, so He might bring to nothing the things that are — so that no human might boast before God. (1 Corinthians 1:27-29, TLV)
God chose to use a simple shepherd boy wearing no armour to defeat a 10-foot plus giant with just one stone.
God chose an aged couple who had just about given up all hope of ever having children to give birth to the boy from whom would come forth His chosen nation of Israel and ultimately, His Saviour of the world.
God chose an uneducated rough fisherman who failed miserably in his promise of being committed to Jesus unto death to head the early church and open the gospel to both the Jews and Gentiles, and He chose the radical religious terrorist who wasn’t even one of His disciples to begin with to become the strongest advocate, writer and preacher of His gospel of grace.
To the rest of us, David, Abraham and Sarah, Peter, and Paul would not have been our natural choices. But God chose them.
Because He knew what He could do through them and in them. Because it was always about Him, not them.
And it was God who inspired the writer of Hebrews to record this exhortation to all His people:
Let us therefore be zealous and exert ourselves and strive diligently to enter that rest [of God, to know and experience it for ourselves], that no one may fall or perish by the same kind of unbelief and disobedience [into which those in the wilderness fell]. (Hebrews 4:11, AMPC)
It is interesting that the only time this Greek word is used with the meaning of “labour” is in regards to entering the rest of God. Another translation reads: “So let us make every effort to enjoy that rest”. God really, really wants us to enter into His rest. And not just enter it, but to enjoy it.
Why would God urge us so strongly to do what seems like such an insignificant, counterproductive and irresponsible thing? Because He knows that we will end up doing more when we enter into His rest.
Even science backs this up, with many experiments and studies showing that workers end up being as much as 4 times more productive* when they take breaks instead of just working straight through the day. Experts now advocate rest because it is essential in replenishing our physical and mental energy.
But rest was God’s plan and design all along. Right on page 2 of the Bible, in the book of beginnings, God blessed and set apart the 7th day as the day of rest (Genesis 2:3), because it marked Him finishing His work of creation.
Today, the International Organization of Standardization counts Sunday as the 7th day of the week, and Sunday is still not a usual work day for most people in the world. God has programmed a natural day of rest in the week.
For the Jews and Christians, however, Sunday is regarded as the 1st day of the week, and Christians come together to worship on Sunday as the Lord’s day because it marked God – in Jesus – finishing His greater work of redemption, when Jesus rose from the grave and put an end to death and all judgement for sin once for all. God wants His people not just to have a day of rest, but to begin in rest.
God wants His people in rest so much so that He urged them to strive diligently to enter it, and to make every effort to enjoy it. Because honestly, rest is one of the hardest things to do, not to mention to begin in.
We are always trying to work things out, be it in our minds or with our hands. Most of us see rest as something that we reserve until after we finish our work.
But God can’t work if we’re trying to do the work ourselves. He can’t work things for us if we are always trying to preempt this and plan that ourselves, and to hold it all together as best as we possibly can.
Does rest produce inactivity or laziness? We need look no further than the person who embodies rest Himself – Jesus.
Jesus was never hurried or hassled. He was never stressed into making snap decisions nor swamped by the endless needs surrounding him.
Even though in a given day He might be travelling more than 50 km across the great lake (without the help of jet boats, cars or planes) to meet and deliver a severely demon-possessed man, or interrupted by a woman in need while on His way to heal a dying girl, He was never in a rush. He rested when it was time to rest, and ministered, healed, and taught when it was required. He had time to stop and fully attend to every need.
He was always cool, calm, and steady, He always knew just what to do and say, and He always did the right thing at the right time. In fact, Jesus did so many things in His 3½ years of ministry that the world would not be able to contain all the books if everything He did were individually recorded (John 21:25).
Jesus never left the rest of God His Father, but always operated in rest.
And Jesus personified rest when He said these words to all who would hear: “Come unto Me, all ye labouring and burdened ones, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28, YLT).
Today, the rest of God is no longer a physical place, an intangible space or an obscure concept – it is a Person, Jesus.
Trust God at His word. Come unto Jesus, and rest in Jesus and what He’s done for you, and see yourself effortlessly operating and doing more than you ever imagined you would, in resting in Jesus.
Because when you encounter Jesus, you encounter grace.
*One of the earliest studies was The Handling of Pig Iron (c. 1911) by Frederick Winslow Taylor, although many more articles now abound on the benefits of rest in increasing productivity and creativity.